December 29, 2010

Community innovation in solar manufacturing

As an open innovation researcher, I sometimes get invited to lecture at high-tech (or low-tech) companies on how the principles of open innovation can be used to improve the efficiency and efficacy of innovation. This draws both on my own published research and the reporting I do for the Open Innovation Blog.

Earlier this month I spoke at a one-day seminar on open innovation in solar manufacturing, held at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. Our hosts were Festo AG, a German process automation company that sells key technologies to PV manufacturing lines (among many others). Since Festo has issued a press release and other outlets have mentioned my role, I thought I’d comment on the event.

The Festo Engineering Network ( is a free online community intended to spur idea generation and sharing among Festo’s direct customers — those that make solar manufacturing equipment — and its indirect customers (PV manufacturers themselves).

One of the ways that they’re doing this by issuing challenges — in other words, crowdsourcing. They also hope to create a sense of community by attracting the right people and have them network and share ideas.

My opening talk on open innovation was fun because I tried to do it Larry Lessig style. (When you are an academic standing between a room full of industry people and their dinner, use all means possible to engage them.) The slides are posted on FEN but I don’t know that they’ll mean much without the audio.

The real value for attendees came from the expert participants from the solar industry. I understood my role as an academic — to stimulate discussion and to get people to think beyond their current way of doing things.

Like any community, building up the FEN will take time. I believe Festo is pointed in the right direction, but we’ll see how quickly it goes.

December 16, 2010

Intuit tries open innovation via crowdsourcing

On Wednesday, Intuit announced a new crowdsourcing initiative it calls “Intuit Collaboratory.” (For non-US readers, Intuit of Mountain View, Calif. is the primary maker of personal finance and small business accounting software here, and also one of the major vendors of personal tax software.)

The initial emphasis of the collaboratory is a crowdsourcing initiative with a $10k maximum prize. The two initial challenges focus on paperless accounting records and receipts. The effort is being led by Jan Bosch, who has been with Intuit since 2007 but was recently appointed vice president of open innovation (so recently, his LinkedIn profile hasn’t been updated.)

In general, the approach is similar to that of other organizations using innovation contests to obtain external innovations, including P&G, NASA, or Netflix. The initial problems and the prize money suggest that this is more of a trial ballon for Intuit — as opposed to Netflix which paid $1 million to improve its core business.

Still, Intuit’s initiative implies that other Silicon Valley firms will also be following suit. With its Intuit Developer Network, Intuit had followed a more conventional platform-based ecosystem model — attracting third party developers first with its SDK and more recently with add-ons to its Software-as-a-Service. (Apparently if you let others extend your SaaS, according to the latest buzzwords it becomes PaaS: Platform as a Service).

The press release emphasizes Intuit’s interest in collaboration, open innovation, and crowdsourcing solutions to specific challenges. (As I’ve predicted in the past, they’re cutting out intermediaries and creating their own market from scratch.)

I’m not quite sure if the new open innovation interest is meant to complement or eventually replace the platform approach. Again, this is an issue of broader interest across Silicon Valley, and thus one I’ll update in the future as I have more information.

December 2, 2010

Using open science to disseminate open innovation

With the new website, both Henry and I decided to build an academic steering committee for the “Researchers” section. The goal of creating such a committee is both to do a better job of updating the existing content and to add new content.

In addition, rather than being the opinion of one researcher (as it was for the first half-decade of this website), the academic content will be curated following policies set by a group of scholars. In other words, we would use more of an open science process to collect and disseminate scientific research on open innovation.

The content we anticipate providing would include:
  • Teaching materials, including cases
  • Conferences
  • Summary of new research
  • A bibliography of published OI research
One of the thorny issues we face is coming up with a clear definition of what is “open innovation”? If we are going to offer a comprehensive catalog of "open innovation” research and teaching materials, we need a clear (and easy to operationalize) definition that allows us to consistently decide what is or is not appropriate.

This was an issue I faced several times sinceI started the original website in 2005. It came up when deciding what to include in my old, ad hoc bibliography of published open innovation research, particularly when people sent me a paper and said “here, please list this.”

It’s also something that many of us wrestle with when doing a literature review or overview of the subject. For the website, we want to have a relatively broad definition — but at the same time one that remains consonant with the work of Chesbrough and others in this tradition.

Personally, I think the definition should be a little tighter for theoretical work — something either or is not “open innovation” — than for teaching cases that might illustrate points related to the use of inbound or outbound OI. For example, I find that user innovation cases can often be used to illustrate OI points, and to change the students’ orientation to look outside the firm. Another teaching example would be to look at IP licensing business models, which certainly existed prior to Henry’s 2003 book, but nonetheless can be used to illustrate the principles of open innovation.

We expect to have more to announce early next year. In the meantime, we would appreciate any suggestions from our academic readers as to content or other useful features we should add to the website.